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A pilot program launched by the US Office of Naval Research (ONR) in late 2015 is beginning to bear fruit. ONR and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently announced a portable measurement system designed to precisely monitor the amount of energy consumed by anything from a small household appliance to a large piece of military equipment.
The Naval Enterprise Partnership Teaming with Universities for National Excellence initiative, or NEPTUNE, pairs ONR researchers with academia in an effort to break new ground in alternative energy and encourage scientific inquiry.
According to c4isrnet.com, the developers envision the device will be used on ships and in forward operating bases, situations where commanders need a quick and convenient means to keep tabs on power consumption.
“In the past, for a lot of monitoring you would have to have an electrician cut the lines and place a device physically within the lines. With this unit, you can strap it to the outside of the power line, so it is not intrusive and it is very portable,” said Maria Medeiros, program officer, ONR.
The device is being tested as a prototype on the Coast Guard cutter Spencer out of Boston. Ship’s captains and field commanders need to track power consumption first in order to gauge how much fuel they need to carry. They also use these metrics to track system performance, perform diagnostics and plan maintenance.
“If you are on a ship you don’t want the system to go offline, … this allows you to do preventive maintenance. If you see an issue coming up you can take steps to find out what is wrong. It could be a faulty wire, it may be something that could be prevented,” she said.
For field units, the monitor might be attached to an air conditioner, heater or backup power supply. Data could help commanders to develop usage profiles, which in turn would allow engineers to optimize these units to ensure they run most efficiently during peak demand times.
The biggest challenge in the development process came in regard to shielding the devices from the electrical systems. “You want these sensors to not be interfering with anything else that they are close to, and you don’t want anything interfering with them,” Medeiros said. “They also need to be robust if they are going to be on ships and bases.”
Developers say it probably isn’t ready for full-scale deployment yet. They’d like to see some enhancements to that rudimentary user interface before sending out the device for wider usage.
Other NEPTUNE projects under way include, for example, a research on the improvement of high-energy rechargeable lithium batteries and developing new energy auditing and decision-making tools at the University of California at Davis.